By Susan Barnett

Imagine if your birthday was just another day – no party, no gifts, no cake, no extra attention.

You certainly wouldn’t feel special.

Unfortunately, it’s an incredibly sad reality for many children in Southwest Florida. They aren’t made to feel special on their birthdays, or any other day for that matter. With parents who are drug addicts, alcoholics, abusive or simply not good parents, some youth don’t get to experience all the joys of childhood.

That’s why I enthusiastically support the Children’s Needs Program through Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit. The program provides “extras” for abused, neglected and abandoned children in the child welfare and foster care programs. Supporters like myself donate funds for birthday parties and gifts, as well as movie tickets, trips to theme parks, sports camps, music lessons, new clothing and much more. Funds also provide tutoring for students who need academic assistance.

These children have endured deplorable living conditions and have been placed in homes with a temporary guardian or foster family. It’s a period of extreme uncertainty in their lives and children often are experiencing fear, sadness and disappointment. They don’t know who has their back.

Thankfully, Guardian ad Litem’s cadre of 500-plus volunteers acts as their voice as children navigate the judicial, child welfare and education systems. I started volunteering nine years ago after my sister told me about Guardian ad Litem’s tremendous impact.

Personally, my goal for each child is reunification with their biological parent or parents. That’s not always possible – some parents just aren’t interested or weren’t willing to change their ways – but I recall one case with a boy whose mother was addicted to heroin. She didn’t want to lose her son, but needed help. After completing a treatment program for her addiction and proving that drugs were a thing of the past, we were able to reunite a mother with her son.

I worked another case where the court terminated parents’ rights to two elementary-age boys. One was assigned to a group home in Naples, while the other was assigned to a foster home in Lehigh Acres. Splitting up siblings is always a last resort, but in partnership with the Department of Children and Families, we found the boys a new home – together. They ultimately were adopted and five years later are flourishing in their new home.

Every Christmas morning, my phone will start dinging from all of the text messages, emails and phone calls I receive from parents and children. It’s extremely gratifying to know that I helped make a difference in these children’s lives.

Guardian ad Litem Foundation helps make a difference every day.

To donate or volunteer, please call Guardian ad Litem Foundation at 239-533-1435 or visit

About the Author

Susan Barnett is a retired vice president of sales for a health care company. The Fort Myers resident donates her time and resources to Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit.